By Sr. Elizabeth, SSJD
On my first reading of the scriptures for today, I was struck by a common theme running through them, the theme of listening for the voice of God.
The reading from 1st Kings has long been a favourite of mine. What immediately leapt out for me when I read it this time were the first words of God to Ezekiel: What are you doing here, Elijah? Surely God knew exactly what Elijah was doing there. He was in fear of his life and for very good reason. King Ahab had called him the most troublesome person in Israel because he had told Ahab there would be a drought throughout the land and there had indeed been a drought. In the third year of the drought, Elijah had challenged all 450 of the priests of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel. In this contest, Elijah proved to all the people that God was much greater than Baal. The irony is that Baal was the Lord of rain and dew, yet he couldn’t provide rain and he couldn’t set fire to the bull on their altar. It wasn’t enough for Elijah to prove that God was more powerful than Baal. Elijah then had the 450 priests of Baal put to death. Queen Jezebel, who worshipped Baal was furious and threatened to kill him “by this time tomorrow”. So naturally Elijah ran away in fear of his life. He went into the wilderness, to Mount Horeb where he was sure Jezebel wouldn’t fine him.
And now the first words God spoke to him were: What are you doing here, Elijah? I think I would have responded, “God you know why I’m here; Jezebel is trying to kill me!” But Elijah tries to defend himself by telling God how zealous he has been for God but God does not seem to be impressed. God tells Elijah to stand outside the cave: there was a great wind that broke up rocks but God was not in the wind; there was an earthquake but God was not in the earthquake; there was fire but God was not in the fire. The fire was followed by the sound of sheer silence and in that silence, God repeats the same words: What are you doing here, Elijah? And Elijah repeats the same excuses. God is definitely not impressed but sends him back to Israel. It seems to me that God wants Elijah to trust God. After all, Elijah has good reason to trust God.
After Elijah told King Ahab about the three year drought that was to come, God had sent him out into the wilderness where the ravens brought him bread and meat. Then God sent him to the widow of Zarephath who looked after him; and finally God had sent fire to burn up his sacrifice in the presence of all the people. Elijah had good reason to trust God but when Jezebel threatened to kill him he ran away instead of trusting God for protection.
What might God be saying to each of us that we are not hearing? What are we afraid of? What are we running away from?
In the psalm today, we hear again of the need to listen for God’s words,
“You speak, O God and I will listen, for your words are peace to your faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to you.”
We are being called not just to listen to God, but also to trust God.
Truly, your salvation is very near to those who fear you, that your glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
We, today, right now, are being called to trust God during this pandemic not knowing what the future may hold for us. Personally, I’m finding this extremely difficult. It’s difficult to plan for the future when we have no idea what the future holds for us. Of course, this has always been true, but now it’s right in our face. We can’t avoid it and we need to listen to God in the silence and be open to God’s leading—not rush into making a lot of decisions.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans we hear the words: ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’. Each of us needs to be listening to what God is saying to us in our hearts, in the silence, in our prayer time individually and together. We have the benefit of living in Community and so we can listen together as we will be doing in our Chapter. No single person has the answers but together we can try to discern what God is calling us to do at this time. Unfortunately, God is not going to give us a five-year plan, but I hope that together we can discern a few next steps and trust God for the future.
Finally we come to the story of Peter which we all know so well. Jesus has just finished feeding the 5000 and needs time by himself to pray so he sends the disciples back across the lake. It’s stormy and in the early morning the disciples see Jesus walking towards them. First they think it is a ghost. Then the impetuous Peter said, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ And Jesus said, ‘Come.’ Initially all is well. Peter gets out of the boat and walks toward Jesus, but then he loses his focus. Instead of focusing on Jesus, he focuses on the strong wind that is battering them all, and he begins to sink calling out to Jesus to save him!
How easy it is to lose our focus and become distracted by all the things that frighten us: the unknown future, our various fears which may be different for each one of us, even death itself. I believe that, more than ever, we are being called to listen for God’s voice in the depths of our being and in community together; to do this we must listen prayerfully to one another which isn’t always easy especially when our ideas may be the opposite of someone else’s. We are being called to trust God during this world-wide pandemic, for “something sacred is coming” as we heard a couple of weeks ago. We are being called to trust one another as well: trust that each one of us is doing her best to listen for the voice of God in her heart.
So we are all being called to listen to God, to our own hearts, to one another, and even to the voice of our planet. We’re called to trust God and to trust one another, And we’re called to let go of our fears and be open to the future whatever it may hold.